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The Portsider

Rocketing into the Millennium
By Staff Writer

I'm writing this before Y2K and you're reading this after Y2K and I'm betting that we've all crossed the great Mendoza Line without too much going amiss. And if the world has actually ended, nobody's going to call me on my mistake.

Paranoia. That's what this whole Y2K thing has been. (Sorry if you're reading this in a fall-out shelter because somebody forgot to check the digital readouts on an H bomb. It seemed like paranoia to me at the time.)

As I was saying, paranoia is part of what makes us all tick. Baseball is full of paranoia, too. Just ask Herman "The Green Flash" Biloba. Herman played for me on the Roswell Rockets just a couple of years after Joe Bauman had his big season there-the 72 homers that seemed so amazing until McGwire conked out 70. Roswell, New Mexico, was a pretty dreary place to play. Funny that aliens would choose that spot to land on earth. Why not Paris? San Francisco? Some place charming. No, we're supposed to believe that super-intelligent beings scouted out the planet and decided to settle in a godforsaken desert.

You may recall that Roswell was the site of America's biggest UFO story. Some debris fell on the ground there in 1947 and a Roswell Army Air Field officer issued a press release stating that ranchers had found parts of a "flying disc." The Air Force quickly claimed it was just a weather balloon (it was actually part of a spy balloon, but they couldn't say that at the time). Too late. The myth was off and flying.

The Hollywood producer of "The Flying Saucer" hired an actor to impersonate an FBI agent swearing the whole thing was true. That didn't help matters. Then a man named Frank Scully published "Behind The Flying Saucers." He claimed that the government had three spaceships in custody, along with the bodies of various aliens. Investigators found that two con men fed Scully the story; they were selling him an oil-locating device they said came from outer space.

Like I say, human nature-isn't it more fun to buy a petrol divining rod from Mars than troop around New Mexico with a geologist from Texas Tech? Marty Mahler thought so. Marty owned the Roswell Rockets when I managed there, and he was a man who never read an affidavit he didn't believe. He was sure the aliens had landed nearby, had moved into the community and were now reproducing and integrating themselves into New Mexico as a first step in taking over the Southwest. He was sure they had already overrun Taos, and, you know, he might have been right about that. From Taos, they were poised to branch out, working connections developed from art galleries and turquoise vendors.

It was getting to be a dangerous place, Marty felt, not at all like the New Mexico he had grown up in. That New Mexico was so quiet, so peaceful. In fact, his mother had moved there specifically to get away from her second cousin's music. Yes, he was a distant relation to Gustav Mahler, but you'd never know it to see him. Marty dressed in a simple black suit at all times, because it absorbed excess noise and deflected radiation. He insisted that the Roswell Rocket games were to be played in the most profound silence possible. There was no organ permitted at the Stadium-partially because of the volume, of course, but also because it was through the electronic speakers that aliens could conduct the Music Of Mars. Once an earthling heard enough Music Of Mars (M.O.M.), they were primed for a psychic takeover. No chatter. That was another of his rules.

No chatter on the field and no chatter in the stands. Vendors were allowed to hold up their products, but never to call out. Any spectator who spoke too loudly would be politely escorted out by the ushers (who all wore black suits; ditto the vendors). The whole place looked like a silent movie of a ball game, run by a group of undertakers. No one spoke, no one cheered. Men in black suits moved silently up and down the aisles, holding up little bags of popcorn or sodas (available only in bottles-paper cups might contain coded messages within the paraffin). The only sound was the ball hitting the bat and the ball popping into the glove. Umpires used hand signals only. Once an umpire couldn't restrain himself on a close play at second. He shouted, "Yer out!" Moments later, four black-suited men silently marched onto the field with a rolling dolly. They strapped the ump to it and carted him off.

That ump may have been excited because it was one of the few times that year he'd been able to call "The Green Flash" out. Herm Biloba was a speedster. He was as fast a man as lived in the fifties and he attributed it to a steady diet of cabbage. This heavy consumption of cabbage turned his skin tone into a very delicate shade of green; hence the moniker. Hence also the need for us on the team to sit far down the bench from Herm. All that cabbage isn't good for a man. He was the Human Rocket in more ways than one.

That could have contributed to his base-stealing success. Nobody wanted to hold him on; it was just that bad. You'd see a first sacker stand next to Herm. Within five seconds he'd cover his nose with his glove. Then he'd start to back off. He'd keep moving further and further away, until he was on the outfield grass. Herm could get a walking lead of about thirty feet and there was another stolen base for the asking.

Now you might think that a deeply paranoid man like Marty wouldn't want anything to do with The Green Flash. But it was just the opposite. He thought of Herm as a natural man; as just the sort of human that the aliens were after. They'd love to get their hands on Herm and clone him. I thought cloning a race of swiftly farting men was a pretty bad idea, but to Marty, this made perfect alien sense. I mean, in his eyes, that's what Joe Bauman was-a Martian experiment, set down in Roswell to see how strong they could make a homo sapien. He wasn't about to let that happen to The Green Flash.

Marty thought about it awhile and came up with the answer: aluminum foil. Specifically, Reynolds Wrap. He instructed the trainer to virtually mummify Herm in tin foil. The theory here is that the aliens operate on high level radio frequencies and all that Reynolds wrap would reflect and distort the signals, and would, literally, foil the aliens. Now Roswell's not the coolest place on earth and you might wonder why Herm would go along with this. All I can say is that everyone wants to climb up the ladder to the show. If it requires spending a couple of months looking like a pork roast, so be it. Unfortunately for Herm, it didn't take two months for things to get nicely browned. It happened in one afternoon.

It was a doubleheader. Herm was sweating up a storm by the middle of the first game, and by the time we got into the second contest, he looked greener than the infield grass. He was also about to pass out, but The Green Flash was a proud little peanut and he wouldn't give in. He led off the fourth and coaxed a walk out of George Lemerts. We were playing a team from Arizona, owned by a candy tycoon, and given the unfortunate name the Tucson Fudgepackers, but that's really neither here nor there. The point is, Herm got on first base. I saw the first sacker back off quickly and that told me trouble was a-coming. Herm could have stolen second easily. No one wanted to get within fifty feet of the man, but something was holding him back. He looked ghastly, green, sweating, little shimmers of tin foil reflecting up through the buttonholes of his uniform. And then it happened. Without warning, a green haze floated out around Herm. It was like a cloud of smoke from the Emerald City, and then the next thing you know, that green fog had ignited into a ball of fiery gas. Herm had spontaneously combusted.

The poor guy. Talk about a Human Rocket. Talk about the Green Flash. He raced off that field faster than a cheetah after a rabbit. He ran into the locker room and afterwards we found shreds of tin foil strewn across every inch of the showers. We assumed he ripped off the uniform, the tin foil, and got the green bomb under control in the shower. We assume that because we never saw Herm again. He totally and completely disappeared. If he was recovering from burns, we never heard about it. If he'd just had it with Marty's paranoia, we'll never know.

Marty, of course, thought it was perfectly clear: the aliens had broken through the protective coating and had abducted The Green Flash. He was now circling the planet on a spaceship, being subjected to hideous scientific experimentation and probably being cloned as he spoke. This incident, the Roswell Incident II, hastened Marty's exit from organized ball. He figured he'd lost the fight to the men from outer space. Following a few quiet years, he spent most of the rest of his life trying to prove that Kennedy was done in by a marksman from Mars. How else can you explain the Magic Bullet? It obviously was operating in a weaker gravity scheme than Earth's.

Well, paranoia can make life interesting. It adds some drama to the mundane. Because, really, crossing the big millennium Mendoza line is going to be a let down. Nothing new is on the other side. Just the same old human beings. Telling stories about the good old days when life was so much more interesting.

Bringing all my stories from a lifetime in baseball and nearly half a century in the upholstery business into the next thousand year span of human oddity, this is Staff Writer.


The only things STAFF WRITER stocked up on for the new millennium were toilet paper and good cigars, but he'd probably have done that anyway. He lives and writes in the old firehouse on the West Bank of Minneapolis.

© 2000 Elysian Fields Quarterly


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